It is ironic that two leading foreign affairs journals would carry articles in the same month by two progressive thinkers expressing diametrically opposed views on the linkages between economic and political development. Michael Mandelbaum informed us in these pages ("Democracy Without America," September/October 2007) that market economies are directly responsible for the surge in global democracy. Robert Reich, writing in Foreign Policy (September/October 2007), explained that capitalism is actually eroding the worldwide development of democracy. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. However, Mandelbaum's efforts to equate democracy promotion with military intervention and his sweeping assertions about the efficacy of democracy-promotion efforts in the Clinton and Bush administrations are disturbing. His claim that the lack of democratic advances in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq, and Kosovo is the direct result of failed democracy-promotion efforts by the Clinton and Bush administrations is as accurate as the claim he does not make: that the dramatic expansion of democracy (to 119 countries by his count) is a direct result of U.S. democracy-promotion efforts. Here, too, the truth lies somewhere in between.
Mandelbaum is most decidedly wrong in his assertion that democratic success stories are the result of simply the natural, almost linear progression from market choices to the development of liberal political institutions. He completely ignores the role and contributions of tens of thousands of courageous civic and political leaders and activists who have struggled against tremendous odds, and at great personal risk, to work toward peaceful political change. If he had bothered to consult with any of these leaders and activists -- people from Seoul to Santiago, Pretoria to Prague -- they would have informed him that international engagement in general and U.S. democracy programs in particular played an important supporting role in the democratic transitions of their countries.
President, National Democratic Institute, Washington, D.C.